, 24 March, 2020 / 7:50 AM
As governments in Africa put in place a raft of measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19, Catholic Church leaders in Nigeria and Congo Brazzaville have, in separate statements, allowed the celebration of public Mass amid certain precautionary measures, including a limited number of those in attendance.
“We encourage smaller units of congregational assemblies. The faithful are encouraged to continue with private devotions,” reads part of a statement by the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN).”
In the March 21 statement signed by CBCN President, Archbishop Agustine Obiora Akubeze, the Prelates have also urged parishes to suspend the sign of peace, drain communal holy water at Church entrances, and offer Holy Communion on the hand instead of the tongue.
The Prelates have also in the two-page statement recommended the closure of all Catholic educational institutions, limited attendance of burial ceremonies to immediate family members, and also suspended weddings until COVID-19 is put under control.
“We appeal to all our Priests to ensure that adequate care is taken to ensure that lines of communication are open to ensure that the poor and the vulnerable who live alone are not abandoned,” the Bishops have collectively urged and added, “Standing together hand in hand will see us through this.”
So far, Nigeria has 36 confirmed COVID-19 cases, and one related death.
Meanwhile in Congo Brazzaville, Prelates have directed Priests “to celebrate the daily and Sunday Eucharist, taking care to ensure the number of participants (not to exceed 50 people per Mass) and to respect the distance of more than one metre.”
During the celebrations, the Prelates have advised, “the sign of peace is suppressed, the body of Christ is received by hand, not by mouth, and all concelebrants receive the blood of Christ by intinction. It is the one who communicates last who purifies. See to it that the sacred cloths are changed at each Eucharist.”
Other measures included the closure of seminaries and formation houses until further notice, as well as the undertaking of the Way of the Cross and other exercises of piety “individually, in private.”
The March 19 collective statement has added, “Church bells will ring regularly at 6:00, 12:00 and 19:00 to invite the faithful to the Angelus prayer where they are, offering to the Lord the sorrows, joys and hopes of humanity (Gaudium et Spes n. l).”
Addressing themselves to estimated 32 percent Catholics in the Central African nation the Bishops urged, “all these measures of hygiene and precaution are not enough without a fervent and persevering prayer to which we earnestly invite you (1 Tim 2:1; Eph 6:18), for "Unless the Lord builds the house, in vain do the builders labor; unless the Lord keeps the city, in vain does the watchman keep watch" (Ps 126/127:l).”
“Let us pray that God will save humanity from this pandemic, pray for the healing of those affected and that God will welcome all victims into his Kingdom,” the Prelates have urged and continued. “We invite you to pray without ceasing (Lk 21:36), to make novenas, triduum, fasting and daily recitation of the rosary, to implore God's mercy and the intercession of the Virgin Mary."
ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa